Both men and women tend to shoot for partners who are out of their league.
These are research findings to swipe left on.
The “desirability” of women online daters peaks at age 18, according to a study recently published in the journal Science Advances. Men, meanwhile, only hit peak desirability at age 50. “Older women are less desirable, while older men are more so. For women, this pattern holds over the full range of ages on the site: The average woman’s desirability drops from the time she is 18 until she is 60,” wrote co-authors Elizabeth Bruch and M.E.J. Newman. “For men, desirability peaks around 50 and then declines.”
The study, which examined nearly 200,000 users on a “popular, free online-dating service” from heterosexual dating markets in New York, Chicago, Boston and Seattle, determined desirability by the number of messages a user received over a month, as well as the desirability of the users sending those messages.
Previous dating-site research seems to mirror this age disparity: An OKCupid analysis of messages between straight daters from 2013 to 2017, for example, found that 61% of “successful” conversations (“at least at four messages back and forth with contact exchange”) occurred between an older man and younger woman, with an age gap of at least five years in nearly half of them. And 2018 data from the dating site Zoosk showed that 60% of men were attracted to younger women, while 56% of younger women opted to date older men.
Bela Gandhi, the president of Smart Dating Academy, called the study “sensational” and said it “confirms what a lot of women feel about online dating — that it’s hopeless; it’s terrible.” “It just makes people feel really negative about their prospects of meeting somebody,” she told Moneyish. “I think it will enable them to hibernate and shut down.”
“Everybody sees the white-haired guy with the young, dark-haired girl,” she added. “But if you look around most of society, let’s use our common sense … You’re not going to see it as often as you think, or as often as studies like this make it seem.”
And it’s worth noting that some people approach online dating as they would shopping on Amazon, Gandhi said. “It doesn’t mean that they think that’s going to be their soulmate,” she said. “Sometimes people just message to message.”
While licensed psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser says she wasn’t taken aback by the age of men’s peak desirability (“Women have a tendency to look for stability, the job, the education — and those things do come with age,” she told Moneyish), she was surprised by the peak age for women. “Eighteen-year-olds are fresh out of high school — they haven’t emotionally (or) intellectually developed; they’re still trying to figure themselves out,” she said. “So they are a risk for dating, in that a lot of people change as they enter their 20s.”
But in a more general sense, Kaiser noted, “we’ve always known that men have wanted younger women.” “They think that they are more easy to impress; they are more (moldable) in terms of everything from emotional behavior to what type of restaurant to eat at,” she said, adding they tend to be “more fit, have less expectations and less baggage.”
Psychologist Fran Walfish, author of “The Self-Aware Parent” and co-star of WE TV’s “Sex Box,” told Moneyish she has seen “a movement and a trend back toward quality people who don’t just look good on the outside or in the bank account, but also have the substance inside to deliver the goods.”
“What I’m finding is they’re learning — they’re not going to get it all if they narrow the scope. There has to be some give,” Walfish said. “And I’m finding that people are beginning to say, ‘You know what? OK, my age range isn’t 18 anymore; it’s 28.’ Or ‘Maybe I’ll look at a 35-year-old guy who is bright and has the promise of a future, but he’s funny and nice and treats me with respect.’”
The present study also found that while more education was desirable in men, women’s desirability declined with greater educational bonafides: An undergrad degree was considered most desirable for women, while postgraduate education was linked to decreased desirability. White men and Asian women were regarded most desirable across all four cities. (OKCupid data has shown that black people and Asian men receive lower ratings.) Meanwhile, men in all four cities saw slightly lower response rates after sending more “positively worded” messages (based on the text-analysis program Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count [LIWC]).
And “the vast majority” of both men and women tend to aim out of their league, according to the paper. In fact, the authors found that people went for partners who were about 25% more desirable than they were.
“Our results on aspirational mate pursuit are consistent with the popular concept of dating ‘leagues,’ as reflected in the idea that someone can be ‘out of your league,’ meaning that attractive matches are desirable for but unavailable to less attractive others,” they wrote. “The chances of receiving a reply from a highly desirable partner may be low, but they remain well above zero, although one will have to work harder, and perhaps also wait longer, to make progress.”
Kaiser suggested singles may over-reach because “it builds their self-esteem if they get that person.” “It’s a confidence and self-esteem booster: ‘If I can get that person that I think is better than me, then maybe I am not as bad as I thought,’” she said.
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